A word to the not-so wise

I had an interesting experience recently, although, given that I am probably the only man in Britain (John Peel aside) who agonises over whiteness vs protection when buying toothpaste, it doesn't take much to excite me.

Nevertheless, there I was on my way to give a talk at our local university when a uniformed goon called me over and asked to see my student ID card. I was shocked - not because I had briefly been mistaken for a student but because I was flattered by his mistake.

We live in a crazy world where youth and inexperience are prized so highly that a middle-aged man like me would rather be taken for an undergraduate than a vice-chancellor.

This got me thinking about the increasing infantilism in life today. No society is going to thrive while we all want to stay 21. Does the VC also want to be taken for one of his students, I wonder, the way that Tony Blair seems to want to be taken for a youth club leader rather than a serious politician?

Schools and universities used to be where people went to learn from those older and wiser. But now it seems they're where we - who ought to be wise - go in the hope of hanging round the beautiful and unwashed to learn some tricks to help us stave off encroaching age. Look at the staff in Channel 4's Teachers, for instance, big kids who want to be mates with their pupils.

The great problem facing us today, aside from choosing the right toothpaste of course, is that knowledge has replaced wisdom.

Kids can glean knowhow from the Internet in the time it takes an adult to switch on and be thrown by an alien boot-up disc in the A-drive. But only a life lived in the spirit of openness and enquiry teaches wisdom.

Until we begin again to value age and wisdom we are heading for a superficial society in which he who has the latest software is perceived to hold all the answers. Remember, no man ever learned wisdom from a mouse. Not even Walt Disney.

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